Michael Port | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Michael Port


Michael Port is the author of several books, and a public speaker, former actor and business mentor.

The Mistake:

One of the big mistakes I made was to think about what other people wanted rather than make strong choices myself. If I had an audition, I'd read the script and start thinking, "What are they looking for? What does this casting director want?" And I'd go in and I'd do it, and I'd think, "Did I give her what she wants?" When in reality, what they wanted me to do was come in there and make really strong choices and show them how the role should be played. If you go into any kind of high stakes situation without making really strong choices, then you are going to end up looking bland, coming across as weak. 

Now, I write books, I give speeches and I have a very substantial company that provides communication and public speaking training. In the early days, I still think the need for approval kept popping up. I wrote my first five books in six years. That is nothing short of stupid. These were big books and that is an enormous amount of work in a very short period of time.

Most of the work that produces results when you write books is after you've actually written the book. It's in the marketing of the book and then the business you produce as result of that book being well-received. But if you write that many books in such a short period of time, it's very difficult to give the attention to all those books, or the attention that those books need.

Why would I do that? Well, maybe I wanted to show people that I was smart, that I wasn't just some dumb actor. But when I go back to the beginning of this business I would say I should have done a lot less. I probably could have been farther along in my professional development if I had done less.

In the early days, when I would get a critical review on a book, even if it was somebody that didn't even seem to have read the book, it would stay with me for days, it would just sit with me. I'd be super upset about it and of course, the 300 positive reviews that came in at the same time that one critical review came in would be easily forgotten. 

We tend to run from potential negative feedback or criticism. 

That's a real problem, because that is trying to get approval from people you are not meant to serve, or just people in general, and not focusing on, “What are the results I am trying to produce with this book or with whatever initiative we've got?”

I tried to just ignore all the reviews. That worked for a little while but then I realized, no, I want to be talking to people who write reviews, I want to interact with them. So I needed to figure out a way to deal with negativity. I started looking at the reviews that my mentors received, the authors that came before me, some of the most famous authors in the world, and I started reading the negative reviews that they got. And I thought, "If Elizabeth Gilbert is being told that she is a bad writer, and she has no place writing, something is wrong with that picture. If she is getting that kind of stuff, I think I can handle getting it too." It made me feel much more relaxed.

The Lesson:

Focus on results, rather than approval. We tend to run from potential negative feedback or criticism. As a result, we play a much smaller game. I see this in personal relationships. Somebody goes out on a date and they're spending half the time thinking about what's the right thing to say as opposed to just actually being themselves and working to deliver on the promises they make. That's it, that's the best we can do. You just get more comfortable over time with whatever rejection comes your way.

Follow Michael Port on Twitter at @michaelport.